The Bonds of Hope and Fear

Seneca, Moral Epistles 5.7-9

“But let me pass you some of today’s little profit: in the work of our Hecato I discovered that a limit for desires is also a cure for fears. “You will stop fearing,” he says, “if you stop hoping.”

Sure, you may reply, “How do two things so different go together?” Well, my Lucilius, even though they appear to be separate, they are joined. Just as the same bonds connect the prisoner and the soldier on guard, so too hope and fear, even though they are dissimilar, walk in step–fear follows hope.

I am not surprised that that move in this way. Each one depends on a mind in doubt, one that is bothered by peering into the future. For this reason the primary cause of both problems is that we do not fit ourselves to the present, but instead direct our thoughts to the future. As a result, foresight, the finest gift of the human condition, is twisted into something bad.

Animals flee the dangers they see and when they get away, they are safe. But we torture ourselves over the future and the past. Many of our gifts bring us pain because our memory revives the torment of fear and our foresight predicts it. Only the present makes no one unhappy. Goodbye!”

Sed ut huius quoque diei lucellum tecum communicem, apud Hecatonem nostrum inveni cupiditatium finem etiam ad timoris remedia proficere. “Desines,” inquit, “timere, si sperare desieris.” Dices: “Quomodo ista tam diversa pariter eunt1?” Ita est, mi Lucili: cum videantur dissidere, coniuncta sunt. Quemadmodum eadem catena et custodiam et militem copulat, sic ista, quae tam dissimilia suntpariter incedunt; spem metus sequitur,

Nec miror ista sic ire; utrumque pendentis animi est, utrumque futuri exspectatione solliciti. Maxima autem utriusque causa est, quod non ad praesentia aptamur, sed cogitationes in longinqua praemittimus. Itaque providentia, maximum bonum condicionis humanae, in malum versa est.

Ferae pericula, quae vident, fugiunt; cum effugere, securae sunt; nos et venturo torquemur et praeterito. Multa bona nostra nobis nocent, timoris enim tormentum memoria reducit, providentia anticipat. Nemo tantum praesentibus miser est. Vale.

Oil painting of a woman in browns and whites turning to look confidently toward the viewer
Frederich Leighton, “Twixt Fear and Hope.” 1895

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